At the recent jboye08 conference, I experienced many interesting examples of how organisations are using wikis. I had many interesting discussions on the benefits and challenges of this tool in an enterprise context. However, what surprised me the most, was that the term "wiki" often carries with it some quite specific notions. "A wiki, in essence, well, that’s like Wikipedia" – I heard time and time again.
I explained how the organisations we interviewed for the Wiki in the Enterprise report are using wikis for everything from group collaboration to an enterprise knowledge reference base. Internally we are using a wiki as our indispensable everyday collaboration tool. Yet, it seemed that for some, using the wiki as a knowledge base (like e.g. Wikipedia), is the only proper way to use a wiki. When it is just a collaboration tool, is it still then a wiki at all?, I was asked.
I would argue that the essence of a wiki is not a particular genre – such as the encyclopedia model. It is rather the functionality that it offers: Co-creation of content. You can certainly utilize this functionality in many different ways.
So when embarking on wikis projects, I recommend looking at the function rather than the definition of the tool. Still, as my discussions last week taught me, it pays to be aware of which definitions of a wiki – or any other tool; "intranet" and "portal" being another two classics – are existing within your organisation. They may help to explain why users are not realising how the tool could potentially help them in their daily work. "Woolly definitions" may also explain why management gets concerned about security and control when you mention wikis. Ensuring that the same language is used is not new or revolutionary advice, but will definitely help your project get off to a good start.
Then again, you might be better off never to mention the word "wiki," and simply launch this new flexible collaboration tool you have discovered. This has worked well for some organisations, whose managers never knew they were actually blogging or wiki-editing; they merely thought they were publishing modern corporate communications.